One of the few remedies available for writers who’ve been ripped off by scammers is to file a payment dispute.
This is possible if you’ve used a credit card or PayPal, and are within the window of time in which a dispute is permitted. In the USA, credit card companies are required by law to give consumers up 60 days from the time they receive their bill to dispute a charge, though many companies allow for a longer 120-day period (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau maintains a database of US credit card company agreements where you can look up your company and see what their policy is). They also cap consumer liability at $50. Protections for UK credit card users are similar.
For PayPal, the dispute window is within 180 days of purchase.
In other words, you must act promptly–which rules out situations where the scam only becomes apparent over a longer period of time (although, from personal experience, credit card companies will sometimes honor disputes beyond the 60- or 120-day window if you can make a strong enough case). And results are not guaranteed. But disputes are at least a potential avenue for getting your money back in some circumstances.
Scammers have figured this out–especially the publishing/marketing/fake literary agency scammers that are such a plague right now. Increasingly, they’re not allowing credit card or Paypal payments, and instead are requiring their victims to pay via wire transfer or a peer-to-peer payment app like Zelle, Venmo, or Cash App. Why? Because these payment methods offer almost no accountability and in most cases, cannot be canceled or disputed.
With a wire transfer from your bank, you can cancel only if you act within 30 minutes of the transfer, and only if the recipient hasn’t picked up or deposited the funds. If the transaction turns out to be fraudulent, you can report it–but banks consider wire transfers to be like an exchange of cash (immediate and irreversible), and offer no consumer protection programs for such transactions. In most cases, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to get your money back.
If the wire transfer was done via a remittance transfer provider such as MoneyGram (typically used for transfers between the USA and foreign countries), you may have up to 180 days to cancel or dispute–but only for mistakes, and only if the scammer hasn’t collected the funds–which for obvious reasons they tend to be very quick to do. (MoneyGram, by the way, has a history of failing to protect consumers from scams, and has been sued twice by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.)
Payment apps are equally dicey, accountability-wise. Again, there is no buyer protection; transfers are treated like cash, and can’t be canceled under most circumstances: Zelle (a notorious hotbed of scams) allows you to cancel a payment only if the recipient isn’t enrolled in Zelle, and Cash App and Venmo don’t allow cancellations to existing Cash App or Venmo accounts.
As for disputes and refunds, the apps offer little support. You may be able to report fraud or dispute a payment, but there’s no guarantee the app will take any action, and your account may be frozen until the matter is resolved. For app payments via a credit card, you can dispute the charge as described above, but for bank account-funded purchases…good luck. A recent report on Zelle, commissioned by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, found that banks reimbursed less than 2% of customers who reported fraud. (Some rules changes may be in the works for next year, but they appear to be very limited.)
Obviously, not every enterprise that encourages the use of wire transfers or P2P apps is fraudulent. But I’m hearing more and more from writers who’ve paid large amounts of money to scammers via these methods, often without realizing that the avenues of redress are so limited. It’s a growing potential pitfall–one more signal that caution is in order, especially for offers that arrive out of the blue.